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Designing sound system in-band headroom based on expected difference between C- and A-weighted levels

Sound pressure level (SPL) is the standard metric for regulations regarding environmental noise exposure. Because performances are often regulated by their A-weighted sound level, it is tempting to think that A-weighted level should be the primary design consideration for sound system headroom. Because A-weighting disregards significant low-frequency energy, it is possible to create a wide variety of spectra with the same A-weighted level, but each having a different spectral shape and C-weighted level. While regulators correlate excessive A-weighted levels with hearing damage, A-weighted levels are less well correlated with community annoyance. The Netherlands has recognized this and created a permitting system incorporating the difference between C- and A-weighted sound levels (C-A) as a measure of low-frequency content. This Brief gives supporting evidence for the correlation between C-A levels and different musical genres and offers complementary design guidance corresponding to sound system headroom with emphasis on in-band levels.

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